Questionable Motives

June 11, 2010

Is there a social cost to atheism?

Filed under: Atheism,Bias,Bigotry,Morality,Religion — tildeb @ 9:53 am

Lauri Lebo has written an article over at Religion Dispatches that raises this question. Lauri is well known for having written the definitive book about the Dover trial in Pennsylvania (The Devil in Dover: Dogma vs Darwin in Small Town America).

The results of an online survey published in the latest issue of Skeptic Magazine show that atheists in America fear paying a high social price in coming out as a non-believer. “The Stigma of Being an Atheist: An Empirical Study on the New Atheist Movement and its Consequences,” written by Tom Arcaro, was based on the results of 8,200 people who identify as atheists or non-believers in God.

The survey, “Coming Out as an Atheist,” was posted live on the Atheist Nexus Web site for four months from September to December 2008. Respondents were asked various questions such as “In general, how stigmatized do you feel atheists are in your culture?” and “Do you feel that there would be any social repercussions if people in your [workplace/family/local community] found out the you were an atheist?”

By a wide margin, atheists in the U.S. were more likely to feel a sense of stigma, highest among those living in the south. For instance, 57 percent of U.S. respondents said they felt they would suffer at least minor social repercussions in the workplace if they came out as an atheist, compared to only 35 percent of respondents in Canada, 24 percent of Australians, 15 percent of residents of United Kingdom, and 12 percent of Western Europeans.

More than two-thirds of Americans said they would suffer stigma in their community and 61 percent said they would suffer stigma from their family.

But what do those numbers look like in someone’s life? Consider this comment:

It was not worth the trouble. My entire familiy , church, friends, wife, job… nothing left.. Nobody talks to me, nobody returns my emails, phone calls, nobodies says Hi…..At my fathers funeral, my mother had the pastor give a sermon about how the family will be reunited, except the son who will never see the father again.

I would have gotten a better reaction if I had announced I was communist Islamic Lesbian Satanic serial-raping Dark Lord of the Sith.

My advice is keep your atheism to yourself if you hate to be demonized and are surrounded by christian friends and family……christians cannot understand the truth of basic Reality, they certianly will never understand your Apostacy.
Christians will demonize their own mother into the devil to protect their fears.

I don’t agree with the advice; I think wider change for the better only happens when the bigotry over the false claims of atheist immorality is exposed for the lie it is. That exposure always carries a personal cost – sometimes sleight and covert, sometimes heavy and overt – but all we can do is push ahead and maintain our intellectual honesty in the face of the biased opinions and social shunning by unenlightened others.


  1. I must admit I have never had this problem specifically, but then I guess it is down to the people you keep company with and how you interact with them. If I was ostracised by a group of people, then this would give me great insight into how these people think, and I am not sure I would want to be related or associated with people who think with so much irrationality.

    So I agree, atheists should ‘come out’ they should speak up they have as much right to their opinion as anyone else.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — June 11, 2010 @ 10:34 am | Reply

  2. It is terribly sad that this does happen. Frankly, I echo the thoughts of misunderstoodranter, and more and more I find it so very hard to associate myself as a minister with people who could be so hateful in the name of religion, God, Jesus, what have you. And yet, at the same time, I readily admit that this is one of my big failures, as well: it is not atheists or agnostics or adherents of other religions I have a hard time loving or even finding common ground with. Rather, it is people “in my own tribe,” so to speak, that I find I have the hardest time loving and accepting, warts and all, particularly fundamentalists and extremists or close-minded individuals (even my use of these terms and labels indicates how far I have to go to learn to love all, regardless of where they are coming from or what their actions and reactions are like).

    Comment by Cody Stauffer — July 2, 2010 @ 1:44 pm | Reply

    • It seems to be very difficult for many serious religious believers to even be aware that there might be a significant difference between being hateful in the name of their religion and being faithful to their religious beliefs. Sometimes, the two are one and the same.

      Comment by tildeb — July 2, 2010 @ 7:07 pm | Reply

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